Graduate Salon: Shay O’Brien and Ahmad Green Hayes

Fri, Apr 20, 2018, 12:00 pm

Ahmad Greene-Hayes

The field of African American religious history is built upon prominent texts written by white and Black men in the early to mid-20th century, including but not limited to W.E.B. Du Bois (1903), Melville J. Herskovitz (1941), Arthur Huff Fauset (1944), and E. Franklin Frazier (1963). While these works were groundbreaking, I argue that their usage in the field has failed to take into consideration a contemporary of Du Bois, Herskovitz, Fauset, and Frazier — Zora Neale Hurston, whose intellectual, political and artistic contributions prioritized the American and Global South. While scholars have written extensively on Black religious formations in the North during and after the Great Migration, to date, little scholarship exists that explores Black religion — separate from studies on slavery, the Gullah/Geechee, and the Civil Rights Movement — among those who remained in the South. My project, “Remembering Zora: The American and Global South in the Study of Black Religions,” seeks to orient the field back to the South by inserting the formidable anthropologist of Black religion, Zora Neale Hurston, into the debates of the 20th century among such persons as Du Bois, Fauset, Frazier, and Herskovitz. By doing so, I seek to show how, when, and why many African Americans in the 19th-20th centuries negotiated between their multiple, and often competing, identities as Christians in the wake of Reconstruction; as the descendants of conjurers and root workers amidst the Great Migration and Black religio-cultural institutional calls for respectability and “de-Africanizing”; and the widespread anti-witchcraft and anti-voodoo rhetoric proliferated in religious, political, legal, and other secular media.

Shay O’Brien

Using social registers supplemented by archival, Census, and vital records, I am building a comprehensive longitudinal dataset of members of Dallas high society from 1896-1956. The data will serve as the basis for numerous studies, beginning with one on the impact of the 1930 oil boom on the centers of Dallas sociopolitical power. The sociology of elites has long asked how elite social networks change over time, especially in response to “new money,” but most such studies have focused on only one or two axes of change. This dataset will provide researchers with the capacity to look at change over time across multiple dimensions: residential patterns, club memberships, religious affiliations, workplaces, marriage, childrearing, and schools. The project will take advantage of computational advances, both in terms of network analysis and in terms of the digital availability of relevant archival resources, to address large gaps in scholarly knowledge about elites, most of which is based on Europe or the Northeastern United States. It will additionally provide a roadmap for future studies of elites in other cities, many of which have comparable archival resources that can be shaped into a similar dataset. After producing a series of linked articles that will form my dissertation, I will make the dataset available for public use.